Rotavirus is an infection of the intestines caused by a virus. It can cause severe diarrhea. Although most cases happen in children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years, rotavirus may infect people of any age.
What is the cause?
Children are infected with rotavirus by coming in contact with others with the infection. The virus is in the bowel movements of anyone who is infected. It can spread to other people if it gets on the hands, in food or water, or on things like toys. Children can spread the virus both before and after they start having diarrhea.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms usually start 12 hours to 4 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms may include:
How is it diagnosed?
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your childâ€™s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. A sample of your child’s bowel movement may be tested for rotavirus. If your child has severe diarrhea, your child may have blood and urine tests to check for dehydration (a loss of too much fluid from the body).
How is it treated?
There are no specific medicines that help diarrhea caused by rotavirus. The most serious problem caused by severe diarrhea is dehydration, so giving your child more fluids is important.
Your child needs to drink enough liquid to replace the fluids and minerals he has lost. Try to get your child to drink extra fluids if his body is losing a lot of fluid. One way to tell if your child is drinking enough liquid is to look at the color of your childâ€™s urine. It should be very light yellow.
Babies under 1 year old
If you are not breast-feeding, give your child an oral rehydration solution (ORS) such as Pedialyte. An ORS is a mixture of fluids, minerals, sugar, and salts that replaces fluid lost by vomiting or diarrhea. You can buy these products at drug and grocery stores. Give the ORS instead of formula for the first 12 to 24 hours. Start giving formula again after your baby has gone 12 to 24 hours without vomiting. Keep giving your baby ORS as long as he has diarrhea.
If you are breast-feeding and your baby is urinating less often than normal, offer an ORS between feedings for the first 6 to 24 hours. If your child is vomiting, give small amounts of breast milk and ORS more often than you usually feed. It will be easier for your child to keep small amounts of liquid down.
Children over 1 year old
Give an ORS such as Pedialyte to start. You can also try giving your child water, ice chips, Popsicles, or half-strength lemon-lime soft drinks (half water, half soft drink). If you donâ€™t have an ORS, you can give your child clear broth or water mixed with fruit juice. These are easy for your childâ€™s body to absorb. Avoid concentrated fruit juices, dark sodas, milk, and milk products. They are not as easily absorbed and usually have too much sugar.
If vomiting is severe, your child may need to be given fluids with an IV.
How can I take care of my child?
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your childâ€™s healthcare provider.
Make sure your child drinks lots of liquid.
Ask your childâ€™s provider:
How and when you will hear your childâ€™s test results
How long it will take your child to recover
If there are activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
How to take care of your child at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them
Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
How can I help prevent rotavirus?
The rotavirus vaccine can prevent rotavirus infection or help it be less severe. It is given by mouth to babies as part of their routine immunizations. A baby should get either 2 or 3 doses, depending on which vaccine is used. The first dose may be given as early as 6 weeks of age. The last dose should be given by 8 months of age.
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Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-09-25 Last reviewed: 2014-09-25
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Oâ€™Ryan, MG and Matson, DO. (2014). Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of rotavirus infection. UpToDate.
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Kleigman RM, Nelsonâ€™s, Chapter 262, and Bass ES et al. Rotavirus. Peditr Rev 2007; 28: 183-191 for this and many facts in this handout
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